To know and not do is not yet to know. – Zen proverb

Last Summer at our Actionable Partner Summit, some partners and I were chatting about the gulf that exists between knowing and doing. Catherine Harrison, Founder and Principal of Purple Voodoo, crystallized the knowing-doing gap for me by citing this proverb: “To know and not do is not yet to know.”

We wondered out loud about who had coined the aphorism. Buddha? Confucius? Yoda? Regardless of who said it, the wisdom really struck me: to know without actually acting on that knowledge means somewhere there is an obstacle to deeply knowing, or possibly a gap in the knowledge itself. How many of us have read the same wisdom over and over again but not allowed it to launch us into action?  

Many of the consultants I talk to over the course of any given week are deeply aware of this struggle in the client context. They are constantly expanding their arsenal to help clients bridge the gap between knowledge and the hard doing that constitutes real change. What they may be less aware of is their own stuck-ness.  

These consultants KNOW they want to pivot or shift their business model. They KNOW they’d like to embrace technology and find a process that will truly sustain learning for their clients. They may even have taken some first steps to exploring ways to shift. While my role is to help them see how and why our platform, Actionable Conversations, might be a viable solution to the change they seek, my role is also guide from knowing to doing—or at the very least to help them identify the knowledge gaps that are preventing them from moving into the doing phase.

I remember one recent conversation where a consultant’s extreme ambivalence was almost palpable. There was a lot of sighing, hunched shoulders, and meandering questioning about the possible directions his consulting practice could move in. Our conversations felt like we were in a car on a steep, snowy incline—tires spinning, going nowhere. Stuck. Once I helped him name his deep ambivalence, we were both relieved and the car could slide gracefully back down the hill. He hadn’t yet figured out IF he wanted to grow his practice, let alone what direction he wanted to move his practice in.   

In that same conversation I also gently highlighted the one or two sparks of delight and curiosity I had noted in our frequent exchanges. Those were the pieces he needed to lean into first.

The way out of stuck-ness and deep ambivalence—the way to fill in knowledge gaps and get you moving from knowledge into action—is to follow emotion. Yes, you’ll need your logic and rational thinking to help you steer clear of foolish risk, but without some emotional fuel you’re likely just going to keep spinning your wheels on that icy incline.   

Desire. Curiosity. Sometimes passion. These are the molecules of the emotional fuel you will need to get you across the knowing-doing divide. By the way, I’m with Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love, Big Magic, and frequent commentator on creativity) who believes curiosity to be a much more constant guide and compass for worthwhile journeys. Passion can be fickle but curiosity can be surprising and generous—a lot more consistently available—and lead you down some surprising paths.  

A number of years ago I was at Trampoline Hall, a barroom lecture series that started in Toronto to showcase ordinary people talking about random, fascinating topics they are not experts in. On the night I attended a young man in his mid-twenties explored the tension of FOMO and YOLO in his life. He had been travelling and wondering what philosophy to embrace to guide him during an aimless, directionless period in his life. He kept vacillating between Fear Of Missing Out and You Only Live Once as guiding principles.

I can’t remember the particulars of his very witty talk, but I do remember recognizing in him how we all use these twin antennae, our invisible insect feelers of fear and desire, when making decisions. Fear Of Missing Out is a motivation borne of anxiety, whereas You Only Live Once is more about identifying a driving curiosity, a joy that beckons you gleefully into something new.

When I meet consultants and coaches they typically come to me with a galvanizing blend of both fear AND desire. I say galvanizing because they are already moving into action from a place of curiosity and exploration when I meet them. So already, excitement and curiosity is trumping fear. But fear is often there too.

Will I be relevant in a couple of years? Will millennial mindsets and technology make me redundant? Will I have enough energy to stand in the eye of dynamic change and continue to have a real impact? And sometimes fear is laced with wishful thinking: Can I just solve the riddle of SEO so I never have to pitch and sell again, just sit back and sift through the leads?

Just last week I met a consultant who embodied for me that amazing ability to move from knowledge to action. I learned how she had started her own practice, done her MBA while raising kids, downsized her house and her lifestyle after exploring the psychological impact of debt, upsized her family travel quota to enrich their lives with travel miles, quit her practice when she started to feel her soul getting tired, trekked the Andes on horseback with only her journal and a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Living and the Dyingand then went on to build a thriving eco hotel in Patagonia.

Okay, so this particular woman is an extreme example of our potential to let desire quash fear, but I have observed that trend more broadly. Recently what I’ve noticed (and what I admire deeply) is that the partners that ultimately join Actionable and succeed in their exciting new business direction are far more motivated by desire and curiosity than fear. Or they use their desire and curiosity as a way to reduce any real power fear may have over them. Sure, they may be very clear about what they DON’T want to have happen, but they live on the possibility side of the equation.

Yes, fear might make you finally take a leap when your back is up against a wall, but desire and an energizing curiosity is what will sustain you for the journey and help you flourish.

What I take from all of my conversations and the glimpses I have into the lives of people on the verge of a change is that, armed with adequate knowledge, it is ultimately curiosity, desire, and a sort of fearlessness that comes from appreciating that all living involves risk that builds the bridge across that gulf between knowing and doing. So, fill your knowledge gaps, learn what you need to learn but blow like mad on those embers of curiosity, intuition and joy. That’s what will move you into real, joyful, roll-up-your-sleeves doing.


Fear Curiosity